The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 13, 2013

John Cox, guest columnist: Lawmakers should face consequences for actions

JOPLIN, Mo. — I have a friend at work. He’s a highly educated man. He watches Fox News nonstop and pretty much believes anything it says. We’ve had some differences of opinions over the years.

When the Bush tax cuts passed, I asked him why guys like us needed a cut. I was worried that a balanced budget would be turned into large deficits that our kids would have to pay back. He said “as a percentage of the GNP these will be minor.” But he, as well as those he listened to, failed to understand the consequences of that action.

When we decided to invade Iraq, I asked “why Iraq? We have our hands full in Afghanistan, and we have the world watching Sadam. Why now? Ten years from now we will look back at this as stupid.” He said that if we didn’t invade now, then, well, you know the arguments. Consequences.

When Al Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth” my friend howled: “What an idiot, climate change is a hoax. Look at all the snow.” I said that a marked increase in unusual and severe weather events were exactly what the scientists predicted would happen. Consequences.

We have a bizarre situation now with the sequester, which has cut funding for national parks, air traffic control, the military, roads, senior Meals on Wheels programs, soup kitchens, schools, the FBI, border patrols, etc. Missouri Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, recently said that the sequester has had no effect in his district. If you don’t look, Mr. Long, you will not find anything. It’s unlikely he gets Meals on Wheels or has a child in Head Start. Members of Congress needed to catch their planes for their recess, so they robbed money from airport improvements to pay for air traffic control that was cut by the sequester. (Can’t be late for that fundraiser!) The rest of the cuts remain. Consequences.

Republican leaders have their heels dug in to protect their wealthy donors from changes in the tax code. While gridlocked problems are left unsolved, people go hungry and concrete crumbles. Why wouldn’t we want to protect the rule that enforces hedge fund managers to pay 13 percent on their millions, while granny’s meals are cut off? Why would we want to tweak the tax code to eliminate high-roller deductions to pay for roads, airports, ports, national parks, clean water, terrorist investigations, education and services for poor children? What would happen to their campaign war chest if they helped the poor and middle class? Consequences.

During the last presidential campaign there was much talk about the value of tax cuts in creating jobs and stimulating the economy. A great number of journalists and economists looked at that claim in detail. Their conclusions? There is no credible historical evidence that cutting the taxes of the wealthy stimulates anything but their own bank accounts. On the contrary, money put in the hands of the poor and middle class ripples through the economy and stimulates business. When tax cuts occur on the upper brackets, other taxes and fees have to make up the difference, which actually decreases economic growth. So, all this talk about the benefit of rewarding the “job makers” is just that — talk. No facts, talk. If we believe that talk? Consequences.

Missouri and Kansas are currently engaged in a race to the bottom, cutting income and corporate taxes in a game of one-upmanship, thinking that these cuts will magically fire up economic growth with no credible data to show that this works. In Kansas, they propose to make up the revenue in sales taxes, European style. Gee, that has worked out so well in Europe. In Missouri, lawmakers aren’t saying how they will make up the lost revenue to offset the cuts. Consequences.

Missouri has refused to participate in expanding health insurance to the working poor, which is paid almost entirely by the federal government, because the legislators don’t trust the government to live up to their end of the bargain. Somehow, Missouri legislators can’t find a way to craft laws to protect the poor when the money doesn’t come from Washington. Projections that participation will create tens of thousands of jobs in Missouri are ignored. These working poor folks now have to show up to local hospitals when they get sick and receive “free” care, paid for by the hospital, which has to eat the costs. How long can this go on, especially in the smaller hospitals? Consequences.

Ninety percent of Americans favor universal background checks. The recent Senate bill had strict safeguards against any national registry of gun owners that some fear. It failed largely because the Republicans (yet again) do not want to give this president a victory on anything, no matter the consequences. The country with the most guns per capita should also be the safest, if it’s true that guns protect people. Instead, what we see in this country is the most gun deaths per capita of any stable democracy. Do we all think that is OK? I also have the right to peaceable assembly in my kids’ schools and the right to go to a movie theater without being shot. How does one “right” trump another? Consequences.

The problem is that our legislators are largely insulated from consequences. The U.S. Congress gets free, bumper-to-bumper “government medicine.” Missouri legislators overturned campaign finance limits so unlimited donations could flow. Many on the state and federal level are in gerrymandered districts, shaped like a child’s scribblings, to minimize the danger of losing. The federal legislators get fat retirements. They work three days a week. They get huge “donations” from anonymous donors with great names, such as Americans for a Better Tomorrow. They can utter outright falsehoods and not be challenged.

 The biggest problem is that, sadly, there are rarely consequences for them, but, I fear, many for us.

John M. Cox lives in Joplin.

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